Going back in time with the Lowlight
It is amazing how time flies by, because it is now nearly two years since I last drove my modified 1950 Lowlight Minor. After last month’s endeavours I wasn’t too far off getting the car back on the road, the main obstacle now being the paperwork. In the middle of the terrible (and worrying!) heat wave, I found the time to swap over the insurance and good battery from Lily, my 1967 four- door Morris Minor, which was then SORNed so I could tax the Lowlight. This was a necessary chore to save paying an additional £200 to have both cars on the insurance permanently. It was also a risky strategy, as if there was something wrong with the new engine, I would be without a working car until I swapped everything back.
Having very thoroughly checked the car over, I decided that the MoT (which is of course now voluntary but still a good idea) could wait until I had driven a few miles to test everything. The brakes of course were tested first as a priority. Despite my optimism, the first run threw up a few faults, starting with a nasty intermittent knocking which seemed to come from the floor near the gearbox. Perhaps it was the clutch pipe or the box itself touching the floor? The modified box is a tight fit under the floor and I thought I may have disturbed something when battling to get the engine in. I tried to resolve this from underneath, but with no success. Further investigation with the engine revving and the bonnet up made me think the alternator or distributor was the source of the noise, but nothing could be found amiss, making it quite frustrating!
After much listening all over the engine using a piece of heater hose as a makeshift stethoscope, I traced the noise to the top of the engine. Removing the oil filler cap made it much louder, and then staring me in the face was the answer – some of the tappets were making contact with the rocker cover and there were two bulges where they had bashed it out of shape. How on earth could this have happened?
The answer lay in the overenthusiastic use of an electric
socket ratchet! Without thinking, my dad had screwed the bolts holding the rocker cover down using its full force, bending the cover in the process so the tappets now hit it. We found a spare rocker cover in the shed, cleaned this up (it can be painted later) and fitted it carefully with the bolts little more than finger tight. Starting the engine proved the noise had gone. This was a big relief, as I had been wondering if I had a serious fault and if the engine was going to have to come out and apart again.
Next problem was that the clutch was a bit soft and late to disengage, so I had to bleed this. Then a mysterious fuse box fault was eventually traced to having connected up the cooling fan thermostat wrongly. Despite all these teething problems, getting behind the wheel of the Lowlight for the first time in two years was a real treat, and surprisingly different to Lily. Leaving engines and suspension aside for a moment (modified on both cars), the immediate impression was of how much more oldfashioned the Lowlight seemed than Lily. The contrast between a Morris Minor Lowlight and a Morris 1000 is quite dramatic. The flat steering wheel and split screen make the view forward very different, and the smaller rear window makes the car feel dark inside. No wonder the Morris 1000 was received with such enthusiasm when it came out in 1956, with an engine capable of some acceleration as well – it was a stunning improvement.
I’m delighted with my ‘new’ engine. It had sat under a bench in dad’s shed for at least 25 years (it must have been put there when I was two – yikes!) with its bores full of oil. With minimal work and expense, it has sorted the car out. It pulls brilliantly, doesn’t burn oil and is free from the vibration the other engine always had.
The Lowlight holds the road better than Lily as it has upright rear shocks and slightly wider wheel rims from a late 8cwt Morris van, but with a lighter Morris 1000 rear axle. The one big disappointment is that the paintwork is showing signs of micro blistering in a few places. I’ll have to live with this for the moment as I simply don’t have the time, inclination or money to pay for a re-spray. In the interim I’m going to enjoy driving it, and with a 1275 Ital engine and an Ital/ Dolomite gearbox with overdrive, I’m certainly not going to be holding up the traffic!
Lily is stored, but serviceable and with a tank full of E5 fuel that is gaining in value! Apart from a service, the only job
I need to do is sort out the gutters, which are showing early signs of rust. I wonder how many times I have written about rusty gutters in this magazine? Last winter I dug out the worst and carefully ran some zinc-rich paint along them. This has stopped them deteriorating further, but a more permanent and attractive repair is needed.
Frustratingly I’ve made no progress on the Lowlight Tourer, and won’t until the winter. I must get that engine out of storage and assess what’s needed to get the Alta head into working condition. Beyond that, it’s ‘just’ a case of doing the bodywork, getting it painted and re-assembled. It needs to be in a proper workshop rather than under a lean-to before I can get any further with it. I’m hoping to get it back in dad’s shed after the 1970 Morris Minor Van is finished. It would be nice to have a convertible car again, although clearly that’s still quite some way off.